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Orbital - Wonky


The genre known as IDM is an interesting beast. Within it reside goliaths like Autechre and Boards of Canada, as well as left field heroes like Venetian Snares and Squarepusher. Orbital fit snugly in the middle of these extremes, the most mainstream of the IDM brand. No, that doesn't mean they wrote a song for Katy Perry, or kids 'Gabba' to their latest singles, whatever the hell Gabba'ing refers to. Think of it more as a commentary on their ability to provide easy listenability across entire albums. You can't say that about Autechre or Aphex Twin or Fennesz. But Orbital has the ability to infect your life and become an apt soundtrack to mundane experiences.

So we come to Wonky. A pop album within a scene that doesn't produce too many pop albums. You won't find epic journey's as you have before with Orbital (see Belfast and The Box if you're interested). The album doesn't feel sloppy, or loose ended. It also doesn't have the techno focus that previous work has engaged. It feels like a dance record, an easily digested entry point to the Orbital world. Personally, it became my wake up album for quite a long time. One Big Moment just feels so much like the sun slowly rising over the hills, then the flurry of activity that kicks in around 1:10 mimicks perfectly the slow start but quick uptake my mornings used to involve. New France is an M83 moment, helped along by the injection of an angelic guest spot from Zola Jesus. Stringy Acid produces the most danceable track on the record, marrying a throbbing drum beat with a simple yet tightly composed synth selection. Beelzedub is the closest they've come to this dubstep scene that seems to be taking over the world (Squarepusher even dabbled in it on his latest). It's not bad, but slightly boring. I guess the kids would love it though.

Elsewhere, we find good solid electronic music. Distractions is a compact expression of drum and bass. The title track starts super strong with lead off drums, and keeps building towards a moment that unfortunately never comes, and leaves you feeling slightly empty and unsatisfied. Where Is It Going? I guess encourages the listener to ask the question. It meanders along with no real purpose or surge for its entirety, remaining solid but uninspiring. Straight Sun features some nice and delicately placed piano keys before indulging in a shameless synth cesspool around 60 seconds in, emerging into the 'sun' so to speak glistening to continue on its way. Never actually feels like this albums 'Belfast' moment, it is the strongest track on the record. A solid synth riff backed by a relentless beat created with unnering drums, it's only criticism is that it doesn't really go anywhere.

And that is the only criticism of the album really. With the exception of Stringy Acid which bleeds excellently in to Beelzedub, it feels more like a collection of dance off-cuts rather than a swirling full length performance. You feel at the start of each song that you're going to achieve something, that this song is going somewhere brilliant, but it sprints up to an acceptable level and then remains there. It also gives off this feeling of inherent simplicity. Previous Orbital work has had the same issue. I'm not degrading and suggesting that this music is easy to make, but unfortunately I compare it to demigods such as Boards of Canada and Autechre, who's love of intricate and complex layers dwarfs lesser releases.This is not a bad thing, it doesn't detract from the listening experience. It makes the music easy to turn on, easy to sit through, and easy to let go of when the album is completed. It leaves you basking in a nice warm glow. Rather than the darkness and lower depths you could reach with previous Orbital work, this record resides above ground, sun-bleached and nice.
6.5/10. Good record, nice to listen to. In fact I thought I'd be giving this more when I started writing this review, and that in itself is a commentary on the album. If you put it on and vibe through it start to finish you will not be disappointed. Just don't scratch away at the surface. Under closer scrutiny you may leave feeling slightly less satisfied.

Best tracks: One Big Moment, Never, New France

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